The woman had to know she wouldn’t be welcome. More that that, she had to know she would set the whole town into a tizzy just by showing up. There were places where you could find a woman like her, but those places never included a church.
Or the preacher’s house, at a party.
Especially when the party was in honor of a famous visiting evangelist, the most famous person who had ever been in that quiet little nowhere town.
Maybe there were other women at the party who did what she did. But they were refined; they knew the whens, wheres, whos, and hows of self-indulgent pleasure, and they wouldn’t be caught. Their discreet activities were hidden in the darkness, shielded by the smoke screens of public piety and community involvement. Yes, I think they must have been there. After all, elite social circles have sinners too. Even in prestigious churches.
And at Pharisees’ house.
The church women gathered at the party. Some of them are genuinely good, kind, and holy. Some aren’t. They stand just as guilty as the sinful lady who had the audacity to invite herself, but any secret involvement they share in her sins doesn’t create compassion within them. Why should it? She doesn’t fit into their circle. Her dress is too coarse, her language too common, her sin too known. She is an “across-the-tracks” sinner. None of them realizes any commonality with this vulgar woman walking through the gate toward the front steps of this godly home.
She doesn’t belong here, each thinks to herself. “What makes her think she can just waltz in here as brazenly as if this were a cheap hotel room with a waiting client? She isn’t looking for religion, or she’d go to church to find it. Surely some church around here caters to her kind. Maybe one on the seedy side of town. This is a private church party, and we don’t want people like her here. The only reason she could be here is to flaunt herself. Simon won’t put up with this. He’ll tongue-lash her so badly she’ll never try this stunt again.”
Some of the men who see the woman coming think the same spiritually superior thoughts as their wives. Not as judgmentally, perhaps, but spiritually snobbish just the same. Other men blanch as they see her come through the door. Completely overwhelmed by panic, they stop mid-word and mid-gesture as though some evil spirit had instantly turned them to stone. They stand helpless, waiting to witness the scene that will end their marriages and make them objects of cruel jokes for years to come.
She walks past them all.
She ignores their lifted noses and disapproving glares. She ignores the peculiarly sweet stench of panic. She moves past the servers, the onlookers, and the church hierarchy. As if unaware of anything or anyone around her, she walks on until she comes to the low table where the host and his special guest are already reclined across from each other, waiting for the meal to begin. Pausing only long enough to plan her path, she steps over dining guests and past other guests sitting or standing near the wall. She knows the custom; those standing weren’t invited to eat, just to listen, and to see and to be seen. Shamelessly nudging a place for herself between two people sitting directly behind the evangelist, she sinks to her knees before His feet.
She sees Him looking at her, smiling. She doesn’t know why He’s smiling and would never guess it is amusement at the way she’d plunged the room into silence by her determined entrance.
Jesus lies on his left side, positioned at an angle to the table, which stands about a foot high. He leans on his left elbow and lifts His cup with His right hand. It is a custom of the day, a rather relaxed way to enjoy a meal. The angle gives Him a perfect view of this woman kneeling just beyond the mat on which He reclines. She is close enough that if she bends at the waist, she can kiss His feet. After staring several seconds into His eye, that’s exactly what she does. Within a moment, servants place food and drink before Jesus, distracting His attention from the woman. Then, as if she weren’t there, He starts to eat.
Eating doesn’t come easily for His host, who is staring in horror directly across the table.
Jesus eats anyway, making polite dinner conversation, pretending not to notice His host’s obvious rage toward the woman at His feet- the woman who now cries softly as she continues to kiss those soiled feet.
Jesus could focus on any person in the room, read his thoughts, learn her heart. But there are two people who capture His attention: the sinful woman crying at His feet and the Pharisee who finds her so disquieting.
Without warning, Jesus feels hands brushing lightly across His ankles, slowly at first then with more urgency. He doesn’t start in surprise, nor does He look; He knows what the woman is doing. He’s been expecting it. Her teardrops have made patterns in the dust that clings to His feet. Dust gathered from the walk to His host’s house. Dust that proper etiquette dictated should have already been washed from Him. Dust now splattered with spilling sorrow. Instinctively, without conscious thought or consideration of His reaction to her violation of social morales by actually touching Him, she removes the tracks of her tears. Her failure to make the marks go away makes her cry all the more. Sobbing now, wiping furiously, she is unable to control the flowing torrent. She doesn’t think to lean back, wipe her eyes, and flee the room. Lost in her hurt, she keeps dropping her pain onto Jesus’ feet and trying to remove it with the caress of her hand.
Jesus eats. Still ignoring her, He looks sadly at Simon.
Simon doesn’t look sad at all. That’s because he doesn’t feel the woman’s sadness. He’s too angry at the spectacle before him- a harlot in his house and a so-called prophet who doesn’t have the sense to know what she is! She’s kissing His feet, and He doesn’t recoil in revulsion! And now-God in heaven, how can this be? Now she’s taking down her hair. In public! Does she know no shame? She’s wiping His feet with her hair!
For her, it’s the next logical step in her illogical behavior. She’s cried herself dry. There are no more tears left to fall. Her crying has completely cleaned the dust from Jesus’ feet. Now, looking for some dry cloth to dry Him, she finds nothing clean enough on her dress or within the recesses of her garments. Still kissing those blessed feet, she lifts her right hand to the covering on her head – not to use it for drying but to remove it. She makes no pause in her kissing as she slides her head-covering down her back. As soon as it is out of the way, she loosens the bands that hold her hair and shakes her head while lifting her face to allow her hair to tumble free. No Jewish woman would ever do that in public, and here she has done it in the Pharisee’s house! Perhaps some men in that room had seen her unfettered hair before – men who, if they weren’t so afraid, would find themselves stirred by the memory that sight brings. She seems not to care. If she, on occasion, has allowed her companion sinners to see her as she is, why should she hide anything from her Savior? Besides, her hair is the cleanest thing available to her, and she is not going to touch Him with anything dirty.
She dries His feet while continuing to kiss Him – kissing His ankle, kissing His toes, kissing any part of Him she can reach. Not in passion. Not for money. Not like any kisses she has given any man in any secret time of her sordid life.
They are kisses of total brokenness.
Once her task is completed, she takes perfume and massages it into His olive-colored skin. It never crosses her mind that her actions are similar to those she’s done in shame. She feels shame now, but it isn’t because of what she is doing, only for what she has done. She offers herself to this man in a completely different manner from which she has offered herself to men before. She isn’t offering her body. She offers instead her heart, her mind, her soul.
But Jesus doesn’t speak to her, doesn’t acknowledge her presence. He is seemingly oblivious to her actions. Instead, He speaks to the self-righteous Pharisee who at that very moment is thinking. “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner.”
Jesus, reading his thoughts, shakes His head in divine dismay and tells him a story about cancelled debts and love, a story that will hit Simon and every guest in that house hard. At its conclusion, Jesus turns his head toward the woman, but He speaks to Simon.
“Do you see this woman?”
Even in this tension-filled room, Jesus displays His gentle humor by asking the question. He acts as if Simon hasn’t noticed this uninvited guest or her shocking behavior. No, He isn’t being insensitive to the woman at His feet. He let her hurt as long as she needed to, but now He’s going to give her joy. It’s okay to use humor. A time of rejoicing is near.
Still speaking to Simon, Jesus continues,
“I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
The woman stops kissing His feet, raises her head, and stares at Him in open-mouthed disbelief. Thoughts flood her. “Did He say forgiven? Did He say I have been forgiven? Me?”
Jesus unlocks His eyes from Simon’s, then locks them intently on hers, making sure she grasps the message: “Your sins are forgiven.”
He knows she needs to hear it directly from Him. He knows that she finds it beyond imagination that God can forgive someone like her, someone who’s spent so many years in such flagrant sin, someone who has no excuse for her sins, only a longing for her future and a fleeing from her past.
So he tells her again, ”Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Her faith. That’s what led Him to remover her legal guilt. Her faith, if she believes Him, will also remove her personal guilt. With both relieved, she can go in peace. The kind of peace only He could offer.
We’ve probably all read this scripture. Maybe even passed over it as ‘just another parable.’ But if this women was you… you’d rewind and replay daily.
Those people watching. The ones she walked passed… they were probably leaders of the church. They were probably in positions in the city that held great power. But they ‘knew’ her. They knew her ‘kind of sin,’ so to speak. They were just more discrete about it.
Did that make them less of a sinner? No, each sin is equal.
So why were they looking down on her like that? Why do we, as church leaders, look down on sinners? Those who just haven’t… gotten it yet?
And me, of all people… how can I look at someone and say that their sin is disgusting? How can I tell someone that I cannot even grasp how they could even think that what they think, do, believe, say, can be okay? Who am I?
Where does this come from?
I may have done some pretty messed up things in my past. I may still do some things that are “unsavory,” but tonight I did something that was just … bad.
(What is she talking about?!)
I may joke around that I am racist. That I hate white people. Whatever. But that all stems from where I came from. Maybe, perhaps, 80% of my family is racist. Not like… burn a cross in your yard, racist, but… a certain level.
And tonight I was talking to my sister and she was telling me how much of a shock it will be to the family when she gives birth and the baby is black. (ohmygoodness,no) As if them calling her the “N” word isn’t enough, this baby is already being judged. Already disliked… and it she isn’t even born yet.
Well… I think your racism is disgusting. I still love you, I’ll pray for you, but don’t talk to me if you’re going to call me names for loving people who aren’t WHITE.
That doesn’t sound very spiritual.
Let me rephrase that.
This woman, who was apparently the town whore, poured herself out wholly before her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The people were shocked that someone like her would even attempt to be in the presence of such a holy man. Let alone, sobbing and kissing his feet and then… letting her hair down to wipe them dry.
When we say that we are “leaving our sins at the feet of Jesus,” we should be doing what she did. We shouldn’t have to make weekly trips to the alter to lay down the same sins at the feet of Jesus each time. We should be PERMANENTLY leaving them there. Once and for all.
I’m listening to a song right now, and it is saying what I am trying to say.
“Blessed Glory, overtake me.
Holy Father, I surrender.
May you teach me that all there is to offer unto you is a soft sweet surrender of life, love and all that is forever.”
That’s pretty much everything.
All in the Greek means all
The things that that woman couldn’t shake, were the things that were temporal. The things that won’t follow us into the next life.
How hard it is to surrender the things we think we need to survive. But in all reality, all we need to survive is the Blood.
And thank God for the Blood.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Without Him, there is no life.
Total brokenness over our sins. Total abandonment to our past lifestyles of hurts and pain.
Without ever being broken, there would be no need to be made whole again.